This post is sponsored by Hunter Public Relations.
Every year since 2003 Hunter Public Relations has conducted a study examining the top food news of the year to better understand what types of stories grab consumer attention and stick in the public consciousness. SmartBrief interviewed Hunter PR Chief Executive Officer and Food Practice Lead Grace Leong about the results of the 2017 Food News Study, how food news affects consumer behavior and how food manufacturers and marketers can put these insights to use.
What was the top food story in 2017? Did any major trends emerge among the top 10 stories
Interestingly, though consumers claim that issues of food safety and nutrition/health and wellness are the most important categories and these stories make the top ten list every year, Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods Market broke through as the No. 1 top food news of the year in terms of awareness across all generations at 60% of Americans recalling this story, beating food safety issues in foodservice that landed in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. “Another food safety scare at Chipotle” had 41% awareness and “Nearly 2.5 million pounds of Tyson chicken products recalled” had 26% awareness. When two brands with mass awareness like Amazon and Whole Foods come together and the potential of lower prices is in the mix, Americans pay attention. The politicization of food emerged as a trend with year, with three of the top ten stories involving policy and politics. President Trump’s involvement in school lunch guidelines, proposed tariffs on Mexican imports and the FDA’s delayed rollout of new nutrition labels all broke through.
Now in its 15th year, the report is wider in scope, analyzing not just the top food news stories but their influence on consumers. Why did Hunter choose to expand the report this year and how does it measure the impact of the top-ranked stories?
Our approach at Hunter Public Relations begins with understanding what consumers care about, and what is driving their opinions and resulting behaviors. To help inform strategic planning for our many clients in the food and beverage industry, we expanded the study five years ago to dive deeper into the impact of the top headlines in food news on consumer attitudes and behaviors, as well the top sources for food information. This year, we took it a step further and set out to quantify the impact of these stories at every step of the consumer engagement continuum by measuring the influence not just on awareness (are the stories remembered?), but also consideration (do they change opinions?), intent (do they impact behavior?) and advocacy (are they shared with others?).
What was the biggest shift you noticed when analyzing this year’s results?
For the first time this year, social media was the No. 1 source for recipes for all consumers, growing by 14 percentage points and taking over websites, as well as more traditional sources such as magazines and cookbooks. Millennials and Gen-Xers lead the continued shift, which has been gaining momentum for each of the five years we’ve been tracking it, with baby boomers/matures not far behind. Among the general population, websites still lead for nutrition information and television is still a leading source for general food news, however, among Hispanic Americans polled this year, social media is the No. 1 source for all food news, including recipes (60%) nutrition (48%) and general food news (51%), reinforcing the importance of a smart social media strategy for engaging this growing segment of the US population.
What type of stories have the greatest impact on consumer habits and choices? Do different types of stories resonate more strongly with certain demographics?
Among those aware of a particular story in the top ten, the way consumers report changes in how they shop, eat or dine out starts to look quite different. Here we see the impact of awareness of food trends on behavior, such as the rise in Korean flavors (No. 22 in terms of overall awareness, but No. 2 in terms of impact among those aware), the fermented foods trend (No. 15 in awareness vs. No. 6 in impact), and frose (No. 20 in awareness vs. No. 8 in impact) as well as nutrition and health, including a story about necessary protein intake (No. 13 in awareness but the No. 1 story in terms of impact on behavior at 44% among those aware) and a story about veggies as the star of the meal (No. 19 in awareness vs. No. 4 in impact).
Millennials, who are more often moved to change as a result of these stories, report the highest levels of changed opinions and behavior as a result of the food stories they’re reading. Overall, the most noted specific food behavior change among Americans this year is they’re paying more attention to food labels.
Finally, knowing that social media has expanded consumer influence from one-to-one to one-to-many, the ability of marketing to impact consumer advocacy has increased in importance. For the first time in 2017, the Hunter Public Relations Food News Study polled consumers on which stories consumers would be most likely to share, and found it was those offering a “teachable” concept, such as recommendations for protein intake or ways to eliminate food waste. While older generations are inclined to share a full article, younger consumers are more likely to make their own post, and share personal photos/comments about these stories.
How do food manufacturers benefit from knowing which news stories have the greatest impact on consumers and how can they use that information to inform product development and marketing strategies?
Earned media and social sharing are powerful tools for driving consumer awareness and impacting opinions and behaviors. In an increasingly crowded news environment, and a world where consumers reach for their phones hundreds of times a day, the results of the annual Hunter Food News Study gives us a window into the topics that are breaking through for various demographics. For example, older consumers are more focused on food safety and nutrition, while younger demographics are more influenced by -- and driving -- food trends. Additionally, the Hunter Food News Study gives us quantifiable insights into the way consumers’ eating and shopping habits are changing, including the top three changes as a result of food news this year: paying more attention to food labels, educating themselves more on food and being more aware of food’s impact on heath. Our study also examines the top sources for food information, broken down by general food news, nutrition and recipes, which is useful for channel planning. If you want to be a part of the conversation that consumers are having about food and nutrition in a positive way, a fundamental understanding of these factors is essential.
Grace Leong is the founding employee of Hunter Public Relations and for the past 28 years has applied her skills as a MBA and communications pro to build an award-winning firm that encourages entrepreneurial professionals to imagine and execute best-in-class, integrated marketing campaigns for clients in the food, beverage, health, beauty, home and retail sectors. Now part of the worldwide MDC Partners network, Hunter PR boasts the second largest food and beverage practice in the US and was named the consumer agency of the year in 2014 by the Holmes Report. Leong is an active member of the Public Relations Society of America and has been widely recognized for her work and professional achievements, including a lifetime achievement award from the New York chapter of the PRSA.
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